She had ovarian cancer, and she wanted answers. The answers she wanted, though, lay beyond those found in a medical journal.
The 61-year-old woman arrived at City of Hope to consult her physician and have an imaging scan. A more immediate issue, though, was her deep, physical pain — and fear.
Fortunately, City of Hope staff quickly recognized her distress and responded. Called patient navigators, these professionals consulted with pain specialists, got her a private room, taught her relaxation techniques and stayed by her side. Throughout the patient’s treatment, navigators set up meetings to ease communication between family members and physicians, taught her about pain management and told her about advanced directives. By listening to her needs, navigators helped ease her worries — and her family’s, as well.
Through a pilot program currently in certain oncology clinics at City of Hope, patient navigators provide personalized guidance and different levels and types of support to improve patients’ experiences. They form a key part of the services provided through the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center.
“Navigators serve as connective tissue for the medical center,” said Annette Mercurio, M.P.H., C.H.E.S., director of programs for the center and head of the navigator program. “They are proactive and prevent crises before they happen. They enhance continuity of care and make it easier for members of the health-care team to work together.”
Breast cancer specialist Joanne Mortimer, M.D., sees the value of the navigator in her clinic. “As a physician, I can focus on the patient’s therapy and answering questions related to cancer treatment without being distracted by psychosocial problems that I am not competent to resolve,” she said. “The patient navigator program clearly enhances not only the quality of life of the patient and family, but that of the physician and nurse as well.”
Staff members evaluate all the services to better understand what patients need, and then use those results to improve care. The navigators and other team members hope to eventually spread the program throughout the medical center.